Kent voters rejecting property tax increase to pay for streets, parks | Election 2012
By STEVE HUNTER
Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter
November 6, 2012 · 9:54 PM
Kent voters appear to be rejecting a property tax increase to help pay for street and park repairs.
Proposition 1 had 57.64 percent (13,457 votes) against and 42.35 percent (9,887 votes) in favor of the measure, according to the Tuesday night results compiled by King County Elections.
"I hope the numbers will turn around because I really think the folks who live here realize we need to fix our safety issues involving our parks and roads," said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson who gathered with others at the Long Dog Tavern downtown to watch election results. "I'm saddened by the early results and I hope things turn around."
If approved, the measure would increase taxes by 37 cents per $1,000 assessed property value and cost the owner of a $300,000 home about $111 per year.
The levy would raise about $29 million over six years, $18.3 million for parks and $10.7 million for streets as 23 cents per $1,000 would go to parks each year and 14 cents per $1,000 to streets. The levy would expire after six years. The measure requires a simple majority for approval.
"I was hoping the early numbers would be closer," Albertson said. "I think when you are coming out of a recession it's difficult to ask people to tax themselves."
Mark Prothero, a Kent attorney who helped lead support of the property tax increase, had hoped to see better numbers pop up on the television screen as he watched with Albertson.
"The initial numbers are disappointing," Prothero said. "New taxes are a hard sell especially when every politician this season is campaigning on a platform of no new taxes and then we're kind of running against that stream. We knew that was going to be difficult."
The City Council voted 4-3 in July to send Proposition 1, a six-year property tax levy increase to voters on the Nov. 6 ballot. The council voted 6-1 in October to adopt a business and occupation (B&O) tax to help raise an estimated $5 million annually to pay for street repairs.
The levy and B&O tax are part of the council's two-step approach it agreed on in July to fund park and street repairs. The council also agreed at that meeting to hire a consultant to find ways to cut $2 million from the city's budget.
Prothero didn't think voters were against the measure because they want businesses to pay more for the repairs to streets and parks.
"It seems like that argument was refuted with the imposition of the B&O tax," Prothero said. "I think that was a compromise and effort by the business community to pay a fair share of the needed costs of the repairs. I'd like to think that wasn't really a factor. I'm thinking people were just against having their property taxes raised."
Kent resident Michelle McDowell initially opposed the property tax increase because the council had not adopted a B&O tax. She wanted the levy to pass once the council approved the business tax. But she understands the concerns of voters.
"It says something about our community and what people can afford," McDowell said in a phone interview. "Perhaps the city council needs to make some hard decisions about another source of revenue."
If approved, the city plans to replace, refurbish and improve playgrounds, ballfields, trails and other park amenities as well as work on 35 neighborhood street projects with improved pavement, sidewalks and lighting. Many of the street repairs are scheduled along 132nd Avenue Southeast, a major north-south route on the East Hill.
Plans also call for replacement of the swimming and fishing dock at Lake Meridian Park.
"It puts the city in a precarious position trying to figure out where to put the next Band-Aid with the little resources available for the needed maintenance," Prothero said. "The concern is that to keep moving forward to even maintaining our quality of life and public assets we have, how else do you pay for it? What's a fairer way to pay for these things? I don't know. That's why we vote."
Contact Kent Reporter Courts, government reporter Steve Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.